Thursday, July 20, 2017

Applause! Applause! Review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of The Producers at Back Stage Theatre was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

The Producers
Book by Mel Brooks & Thomas Meehan
Music & Lyrics by Mel Brooks
Music arranged by Glen Kelly & Doug Besterman
Directed by Brian Stalter
Second Stage Productions
Back Stage Theatre
1750-A Merrick Avenue
Merrick, New York 11566
Reviewed 7/16/17

The Producers opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on April 19, 2001, and ran for 2,502 performances, closing on April 22, 2007. The show originally starred Nathan Lane as Max Bialystock and Matthew Broderick as Leo Bloom. The production won 12 Tony Awards, breaking the record held for 37 years by Hello, Dolly!, which had won 10. If you are unfamiliar with this musical, you should be forewarned that some of the jokes and themes are X-rated, and the book, written by Mel Brooks and Thomas Meehan, is extremely politically incorrect objectifying women and liberally making fun of homosexuals and other minorities. If you are easily offended, I think you might be well-advised to pass on seeing this musical. If you have a good sense of humor and enjoyed Mel Brooks' 1974 movie, Blazing Saddles, then this is the show for you.

Barry Kaplan does a fine job playing Max Bialystock, a famous Broadway producer who hasn't had a hit in quite some time. (He also made some bad decisions, like inventing Theater In The Square, where no one had a good seat.) He raises money for his productions (never putting in a dime of his own) by fooling around with women with walkers who are well past their prime. He remembers each one by the key-phrase they use during foreplay. For example, the very aggressive Hold Me - Touch Me, quite believably portrayed by Judy Mahoney, is interested in their role-playing as the Milk Maid and The Well-Hung Stable Boy. Exhausted, at one point Max suggests they play a game that doesn't involve any sex, like The Jewish Princess & Her Husband. Leo Bloom, a shy, virgin Accountant from Whitehall & Marks, happens to be in Max's office when Hold Me - Touch Me is visiting. He is shocked and yet intrigued by what he has witnessed. At some point, he makes an off-handed comment that a producer could make more money with a flop than with a hit by overselling shares in a production that quickly closes. Eventually, the two team up to carry out this scheme. Vin Maiello, who really dedicated himself to the role and eventually pulled it off, was almost twice the age the part calls for, and with silver hair, he had his work cut out for him to win over the audience. I am happy to report his performance was a great success. If only Barry Kaplan could have remembered who was Max and who was Leo, their teaming up would have been perfect.

Zoe Carpentieri shines as Ulla Inga Hansen Benson Yansen Tallen Hallen Svaden Swanson, the Swedish bombshell who auditions for Max and Leo and is eventually hired to be their "secretary-slash-receptionist." After her audition for a part in "Springtime For Hitler," they tell her, "We may be sitting down my dear but we are giving you a standing ovation." After listening to her morning routine, they tell her she should get to the office at 11 a.m., the time "Ulla likes to have sex." Ulla and Leo eventually fall in love leaving Max the odd-man out. Hoping for a flop, Max and Leo buy the exclusive rights to "Springtime For Hitler" from Franz Liebkind, a former Nazi who coerces them to dance and take an oath. Max and Leo take the oath but somehow forget to raise the correct finger while taking it. Michael Janover nailed the part of Franz Liebkind both in accent and through his enthusiastically performed German dance numbers - "In Old Bavaria," "Der Gutten Tag Hop-Clop," and "Have You Ever Heard The German Band." To guarantee a flop, they filled half the audience with Jews and hired Roger DeBris, a flamboyant gay director, who intended to have the Nazis win World War II during the second act of the play. Franz Liebkind was originally cast to play Hitler but when he broke his leg, Roger took over. As you probably know, the play was a hit. This was despite the fact, as Leo observed, that our leading man "was so gay, he nearly flew away." The standout performances of the evening were by Michael Harrison Carlin, who embodied Roger DeBris, and by Michael Harrington, who played Carmen Ghia, DeBris' "common-law assistant." Their acting was one of the highlights of the show. We also learned that Adolf Hitler and Roger DeBris had something in common - both have "Elizabeth" as their middle name and were "descended from a long-time of British Queens."

After the success of "Springtime For Hitler," Leo Bloom decides he is going to turn himself into the authorities and beg for leniency. Max disagrees and they are fighting over possession of the accounting books when Roger & Carmen crash into their office and observe Leo mounting Max from the rear yelling, "Give it to me!" "Give it to me!" In one of the funniest lines of the show, Roger DeBris says, "That's what I call celebrating!" Upset that the play made his idol, Adolf Hitler, look bad, Franz Liebkind enters the office with a gun that eventually goes off. The police arrive and discover the two accounting books - one entitled "Show To The IRS" and the other entitled "Never Show To The IRS." Max tries to pose as an innocent Irishman but is arrested anyway. An African-American police officer tells Max they are serving something he might enjoy eating and Max's response was, "I have heard of Black Irish but this is ridiculous!" Leo escapes to Rio with Ulla and the two million dollars not confiscated by the police. They get married and have sex but eventually feel guilty and return to testify on Max's behalf. It does no good and Max and Leo are sentenced to five years in state prison. After having their sentences commuted by the Governor for bringing music and joy to their fellow prisoners, it's Bloom Day after all, and Max and Leo go on to produce many hit musicals including Prisoners Of Love, Katz, 47th Street, and South Passaic.

This production of The Producers featured a fine supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed the three young ladies who played Franz Liebkind's pigeons and Keith Jones who was eclectically cast as both a Storm Trooper having trouble pronouncing Hitler's name and as a Transgender Chorus Girl eager to offer up his services to Leo Bloom, who started off as "a weak and droopy daffodil" but ended up becoming a producer, which was everything he wasn't when he started out on this path. 

This production of The Producers is a huge success. I highly recommend you see it. Tickets cost only $20.00 and can be purchased at the door. Remaining performances are on Friday, July 21st at 8:00 p.m., Saturday, July 22nd at 8:00 p.m., and Sunday, July 30th at 7:00 p.m. For more information, visit or call 516-996-0303. 

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